Here we explore some of the myths & legends!

Entries by [Stephanie Greenwood] (32)


Study: Radish Root Ferment Contains Petrochemicals

Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, aka or Leucidal Liquid, has been a go-to preservative in recent years for companies looking for a safer, more natural alternative. 

However, a recent study has found that the reportedly natural preservative is laced with a synthetic disinfectant called didecyldimethylammonium chloride. (Read the study in its entirety here.)

The researchers had been curious as to how the leuconostoc preservative actually worked to prevent bacterial growth, initially thinking that it contained natural peptides and acids. While they did find salicylic acid was a main constituent in radish root ferment filtrate, they found no peptides, and instead were suprised to find the synthetic didecyldimethylammonium chloride. 

Once they were able to extract the two compounds from a sample of the radish root ferment filtrate, they did carbon dating on them and found at they were clearly from synthetic, petroleum-based sources, not from plants: 

To determine the origin of the salicylic acid and didecyldimethylammonium salts we isolated from LRRFF, samples were submitted for carbon dating. On the basis of the amount of 14C present, these compounds were dated to 52 000 ± 2 900 and 21 140 ± 100 years old, respectively. This clearly indicates that the salicylic acid and the didecyldimethylammonium chloride are largely derived from petroleum-based precursors and that neither is the product of a recent fermentation of plant material.

They also tried making a radish ferment of their own, and found that no didecyldimethylammonium chloride is present naturally in radishes or their fermentation products. 

Salicylic acid is known to be a weak estrogen mimicker, which I've written about here

The study's researchers say that didecyldimethylammonium chloride has "toxicity to aquatic organisms and can also affect human health. They are known to enhance permeability of salicylic acid through animal skin, and can cause skin allergenic effects, asthma, and lung problems, as well as eye irritation." 

The study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in March 2015; the manufacturer that holds the patent of the preservative does not appear to have made any public statements regarding this information. This is the first and only study on the topic. 

Here is a list of products that currently use Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate according to EWG.


The Wen Hair Loss Controversy

The reports of a class-action lawsuit claiming that Wen hair cleanser has caused hair loss for 200+ women have been all over the news. The lawsuit and controversy have actually been going on for a few years now, and there have actually been multiple lawsuits pending over the last couple years. Since the story is gaining traction over the mainstream and social media, I thought I would put forth my two cents on the topic.

I first learned of the issue a couple years ago when a woman emailed me asking for my opinion regarding the ingredients of Wen. She told me that she had used Wen on her daughter's hair and within minutes her daughter was losing hair in clumps. It was not a delayed reaction or slowly thinning hair, but actual clumps and bald spots that happened immediately. She told me that there were some lawsuits brewing and asked if I had any thoughts about the issue. I can only speculate, but I have recently developed some thoughts on the matter.

Some reports have said that the hair loss is caused by clogged hair follicles. Because it's a cleansing conditioner, they postulated that it isn't strong enough to cleanse the scalp, leading to buildup that irritated hair follicules and thus hair loss. It's an interesting theory, however many of the reports of hair loss with the product were like those from the woman with whom I spoke--immediate hair loss, in clumps. This wouldn't happen were it caused by gradual buildup.

Some have speculated that an irritant or allergen could be to blame. The formula contains several potential allergens including hydroxycetronellal, Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, and previous versions of the formula also contains methylisothiazolinone, also a known allergen.

Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine is another consideration that I haven't seen being discussed. In older versions of the formula it was listed lower on the label; current versions it appears to be higher on the list. I don't know if this is a formulation change or a listing change, or just a variation from scent to scent, but it is an ingredient to consider. While stearamidopropyl dimethylamine is a fairly widely used products (in more than 400 known formulas) it can cause contact allergen dermatitis (usually in a delayed fashion) when used at too high of a concentration. The culprit is a manufacturing byproduct called 3,3-dimethylaminopropylamine (DMAPA) that's usually left over in the finished product. (Source) Contact allergen dermatitis can cause telogen hair loss, happening a couple weeks after the initial allergic reaction. (Source) One theory that I pose is that perhaps there was a batch of the stearamidopropyl dimethylamine that contained a higher amount of DMAPA and it created sensitization/allergic reaction in some individuals. 

However, these are all purely theories and plaintiffs in the case have yet to provide evidence as to exactly how Wen causes hair loss. There actually have been two different lawsuits with about 200 people involved in each. With 10 million bottles of Wen sold over the years, that's really quite a low number of people. A .004% reaction rate. Although the statistics are not available, to me, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that if you sold 10 million of anything that 400 people could have an allergy or problem with it. I mean this with no disrespect to the women in the case--while statistically they remain a small number, their hair loss is in no doubt emotionally distressing to say the least. Additionally, there are probably more people who had a problem but are not part of the lawsuits, so this statistic may not be accurate. 

So, if this case has been going on since 2013, why are we just now seeing it on the news? Well, they've been going back and forth with legal posturing for the last couple of years. This costs a lot of money--something that Guthy Renker (makers of Wen) has a lot of. So, they presumably have not had a problem with a drawn out legal battle. The plaintiffs on the other hand, without strong evidence of causation, and perhaps dwindling funds/patience, needed a strategy to get Wen to settle the case out of court. Sending press releases and news pitches to the national media about the emotional story that Wen was causing hair loss was just the thing to push Wen to start talking about a settlement. And indeed it worked--one day after the story broke, both cases against Wen started mediation. (Source)

The bottom line:

While Wen has a number of suspect ingredients that could cause an allergic reaction strong enough to cause hair loss, there has not been definitive proof that it did indeed cause these women to lose their hair. At the same time, these anecdotal reports appear to be legitimate and something indeed happened to those women. But until direct causation can be shown, the issue remains under investigation. 

The big issue to me, however, is that the product is marketed as this natural and oh-so-healthy option, but it's filled with potentially harmful synthetics. The three that I named above, as well as: 

Behentrimonium methosulfate--quaternary ammonium compound potentially linked to endocrine disruption

Phenoxyethanol--potential estrogen mimicker 

PEG-60 and Polysorbate 60--ethoxylated chemicals created with the carcinogen ethylene oxide, traces of which, along with its carcinogenic byproduct 1,4-dioxane can remain in the product

Fragrance--can contain anything from a list of over 2500 different synthetic chemicals, including endocrine-disrupting phthalates 


Soap Impossible: Still Doesn't Add Up

In January of this year I wrote this article, exposing a soap product that just didn't add up. A couple months after my article was published, one of the owners wrote to me telling me how I was wrong, and shared her story of her son with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. I told her that I'd be happy to post an update or retraction if they were able to provide further information about the product that addressed my ingredient concerns. I never heard back, but the company quietly changed a few things on their website, in an attempt to answer the concerns that I raised. However, even with those changes, the product still does not add up. 

A Quiet Ingredients Listing Change

Previously they claimed that their product was a "100% plant-based cleaning soap" and that it was created using "minerals and enzymes from seed-bearing plants." In my previous article I questioned how "minerals and enzymes" from plants could combine with the coconut oil they listed to create a soap. Unless they were burning the plants to create ash, and then using the purified ash to saponify the coconut oil (like how African Black Soap is made) they weren't truly making a soap.

Ther website now reads "100% Plant & Mineral Based"--note the addition of "and mineral" based. They also started listing baking soda as an addition to their ingredients list. They claim that their product is a true soap (an oil that has been mixed with an alkali) and contains no synthetic detergents, and that the baking soda is what is used as the alkali. They say that through their special process of alcohol, baking soda, and coconut oil and fatty acids is able to create a soap. It seemed like a subtle way that they were admitting their previous labels were omitting something. 

There are a couple of problems with the idea of saponifying with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).

First of all, sodium bicarbonate is a weak alkali, and not likely "strong" enough to tear apart a molecule of oil and turn it in to soap. But, let's say, for a moment, that they somehow developed a special process, maybe through high pressure or heat, that they were able to use sodium bicarbonate as a saponifying agent. The end result would be sodium cocoate, which is a solid. Their product is a liquid. 

One big component of coconut oil is stearic acid. Saponified, it becomes sodium stearate. A large portion of sodium cocoate is sodium stearate, which is a solid. 


So, that's the first thing that didn't add up to me. 

So, I got a hold of the product and put it to the test. 

I created a number of different tests that would compare a true soap vs. what I'm going to call "Product X." These are tests that you too can do at home to verify my findings if you're using this product.

Water Test

If you've ever used a  soap before (true soap) like our shower gels or Dr. Bronner's soap, you know that when you add water to it, the formula gets cloudy. 

Here you can see side-by-side, pure potassium cocoate (liquid coconut oil soap) added with water, vs. "Product X." The potassium cocoate is cloudy, but the "Product X" is crystal clear.


Result: FAIL

pH Test

Any true soap is alkaline. So, I did a simple pH test on the product. Here you can see potassium cocoate (the true soap) on the left, and the "Product X" on the right. The "Product X" was indeed alkaline, so it being a true soap based on pH alone is plausible. One interesting note--in order to get a pH reading, water has to be present (as it is a measure of certain ions in water). The pure potassium cocoate hardly registered a pH because it contained such little water. For a product that's marketed as a "concentrate" it certainly contains water. 


Result: Inconclusive

Acid Test

When you add an acid to a true soap, the solution neutralizes and is no longer able to act as a soap. It will be milky and lose its cleansing properties. So, I neutralized both my potassium cocoate and "Product X" formulas with citric acid until the overall formula was mildly acidic, at a pH of 6. (It took three times as much citric acid to neutralize the soap, BTW.) 

The "Product X" turned slightly cloudy. 

Pure potassium cocoate turns very cloudy. 

Result: Inconclusive...but it's giving me some thoughts. 

Salt Test

If you add common table salt to true liquid soap, the sodium ion will displace the potassium and sodium cocoate will precipitate out of the solution. (Remember, sodium cocoate is a solid.) So, I added 1/4 teaspoon salt to "Product X" and to the pure coconut oil soap to see the difference. 

For further testing, I dumped salt in the "Product X" to see what would happen. Small chunks started to form. 


Result: Hm....


The slight cloudiness in the salt and the acid tests made me start to think...what if "Product X" contains a little bit of soap, but also synthetic detergent. With a very small amount of soap to detergent ratio, you could create a formula that stayed clear in the water test, but would show a small amount of cloudiness if salt or acid were added.

So, I made a blend of my own: decyl glucoside with a touch of potassium cocoate, and water. (Decyl glucoside is a synthetic detergent of natural origin that's one of the most gentle detergents available. We use decyl glucoside in our products where we can't use soap. For instance in a salt scrub, where a liquid soap would chunk up in the presence of salt. I don't know if this is what they're using in their product or not, but it was the only one I had on hand to test.)

Water Test

I took my formula and put it in a foamer bottle. With the small amount of soap present, the formula remained clear in solution. 

Check out how clear the formula is, just like "Product X." 

Acid test

At a pH of 6, look how similar the formulas are.

Salt Test

My solution acted just like Product X when salt was added. Got slightly cloudy but no chunks formed.


Product X is most likely a combination of water, a synthetic detergent, and a touch of true soap (likely potassium cocoate). Now, that's not to say that the product is dangerous or "bad." Synthetic detergents can be useful and gentle (as in the case of decyl glucoside.) However, without a full and accurate ingredients listing, there's no way to truly assess the safety of this product.

Now, it's also not to say that the company is intentionally deceiving customers. It may be that they're getting the product made in a contract lab and the lab is misrepresenting the product to them, or the company owners may not have a true understanding of the product they're selling. Either way, from all of the tests I have done, it appears that the ingredients on the label do not match what's in the product. 


Antiperspirants & Breast Cancer--Just an Internet Myth?

I recently caught a panel discussion on satellite radio about breast cancer (presumably for Breast Cancer Awareness Month). A number of doctors were answering questions and debunking some myths about breast cancer, treatments, and causes. In this discussion they addressed the question of whether antiperspirants cause breast cancer. The doctor's answer was unequivocally "No. That's just an internet myth." He went on to describe that the myth started as a result of women being asked to wipe off your deodorant because the aluminum particles can interfere with the imaging. The doctor stated that people got confused and started thinking that antiperspirants were bad and then spread rumors via the internet. 

Is the antiperspirant and breast cancer link just an internet myth created by confused people? 


The potential link between breast cancer and aluminum antiperspirant may have started out as one of those "pass it along" emails in the late 90s, but the aluminum-breast cancer link has actually been studied for a number of years now. The first published study regarding antiperspirant use and breast cancer risk was in 2002, a population-based study that actually found no correlation between breast cancer and antiperspirant use. (Source) However, the next year, a researchers found that earlier and more frequent antiperspirant use did correlate with earlier breast cancer diagnoses, suggesting that aluminum may have been to blame. (Source) One thing they did not apparently discuss, however, was that perhaps women who used deodorants earlier in life had been exposed to estrogen for a longer period of their lifespan. The earlier the need for deodorant arose, the earlier puberty and its resulting hormones would have been, and thus higher risk for reproductive cancers. So, that study wasn't able to show direct causation. 

In 2004 a case study was published in The American Journal of Medicine detailing a case of a woman who had experienced aluminum poisoning. Once she stopped using aluminum-based antiperspirants, her aluminum levels went back to normal levels. (Source) Researchers strongly suggested that the antiperspirant was to blame. Other studies (and widespread use of antiperspirants) however, have shown very low absorption rates on intact skin. Higher rates have been found for abraided skin. (Source)(Source) It is hypothesized that some people may absorb aluminum more than others. In a follow-up article in The American Journal of Medicine, Christpher Exley, PhD states

"We now know that transdermal uptake of aluminum is not only possible, but may also be important. I am now concerned that we are guilty of being complacent about exposure to aluminum." 

In 2009 researchers studied antiperspirants' blocking mechanisms and suggested antiperspirant use could lead to higher exposure of certain hormones. Many of the compounds released in our sweat are androgens (a type of hormone) or androgen metabolites, and pheremones. Researchers proposed that when the sweat is not released, these hormones end up back in the body and can disrupt the body's hormone function.

Antiperspirants intended action, obstruction of axillary apocrine sweat glands, could create a reservoir of hormones in an optimal environment for transdermal absorption. Long term inadvertent and unintended systemic hormonal exposure to developing breast and prostate tissue may occur. (Source)

In 2011, increased concentrations of nickel, cadmium and aluminum were found to accumulate in breast cancer tissue (source) however, later studies weren't able to reproduce the findings (Source) but different extraction methods were used. In 2013, however, researchers collected nipple aspirate fluids, comparing those of breast cancer patients vs. healthy subjects. The samples found increased levels of oxidative markers and aluminum in the fluids from women with breast cancer.

"In addition to emerging evidence, our results support the possible involvement of aluminium ions in oxidative and inflammatory status perturbations of breast cancer microenvironment, suggesting aluminium accumulation in breast microenvironment as a possible risk factor for oxidative/inflammatory phenotype of breast cells." (Source)

A 2015 study recently found that aluminum salts compromised DNA repair systems in breast tissue cells, (source), and another found that aluminum can cause the spread of breast cancer cells. (source

A 2014 review published in the Journal of Trace Elements and Medical Biology states the following: 

Recent work in cells in culture has lent credence to the hypothesis that this metal could accumulate in the mammary gland and selectively interfere with the biological properties of breast epithelial cells, thereby promoting a cascade of alterations reminiscent of the early phases of malignant transformation. In addition, several studies suggest that the presence of Al in human breast could influence metastatic process. As a consequence, given that the toxicity of Al has been widely recognized and that it is not a physiological component in human tissues, reducing the concentration of this metal in antiperspirants is a matter of urgency.

The Bottom Line

There is still a lot we don't know about the antiperspirant and breast cancer link, but the body of research should not be written off as "just an internet myth." This is an emerging field of science. While there has been no population-based study showing correlation/causation between antiperspirant use and risk of breast cancer, there are a few things that we do know:

  • Aluminum is absorbed to some degree through antiperspirant (and crystal deodorant) use; rates vary depending on an individual's skin and predisposition.  
  • Aluminum has no biological role in life function and is a pro-oxidant that damages cells and DNA and displays estrogenic activity.  
  • Aluminum has been found to accumulate in breast tissue and is especially concentrated in fluids such as breast milk. 

 Read here for more information about the dangers of aluminum.  


Children's Line--Impossible Ingredients. 

The more I write about, the more I find! Today, here's a children's bubble bath with another impossible ingredients list! 

Sounds like a fairly "clean" product but there's a couple big questions here...

What's making this product lather? 

The only ingredient here that is a cleansing agent is the Saponaria Officinalis Leaf Extract, aka, soapwort root. I've worked with soapwort before. Quite a bit, actually. Back in 2006 when I started formulating for our company, the first product that I wanted to make was a soapwort shampoo. Try as I might, no matter how much boiling, no matter how much I used, while the solution did create some bubbles and cleaned my hair, it never created what one would call a lather. As a bubble bath? Even more impossible. It would take a full bottle of soapwort shampoo to get my hair clean--adding a tablespoon of it to a bath to make bubbles? Even more impossible. 

None of the other extracts or ingredients on the list would produce a lather. 

So...I went ahead and ordered the product. One of the tests I do when I investigate products like this--don't laugh at me--is to actually taste the product. Tasting enables me to instantly detect if there's a soap or detergent in a product, and I can tell you, there's definitely a detergent in this product.

Just touching my tongue to the product, my mouth was filled with detergent taste that was hard to rinse out!  

One thing that I also like to rule out is the presence of soap. It's unlikely in the first place that it's true soap, as soap is pretty difficult to use as a bubble bath. As many of you have probably experienced before--when you put a castile soap in the water, what does it do? Well, it doesn't foam up--it just turns the water milky. Still, I always like to rule it out with a pH test. This product was a perfectly neutral 7. I also noticed that it contains citric acid. So, something with an acid added, but with a neutral pH, had to be alkaline to start out with. True soap is alkaline, but if you neutralize it with an acid, it turns to mush. Soapwort root extract is neutral in solution, so if you added citric acid to it, the overall pH would end up being acidic. The only thing that would be alkaline and able to be neutralized with a weak acid like citric acid would be some kind of synthetic detergent. Not that all detergents are "bad," but how are we supposed to assess safety without knowing? 

Another thing I noticed--usually soapwort root extract will create a brownish liquid, kind of like soapnut liquid. This formula is perfectly crystal clear with no color. If there was somehow just a super-strong concentration of soapwort root, the formula would be brown. 

The second big question I have here is about the scent. It is STRONG.  

I have a pretty good nose for synthetic fragrance and this seems to be synthetically fragranced. They could be using some natural scent extracts that are just really strong, but it didn't seem like it to me. The scent lingers long after your skin is dry--indicative of synthetic fragrance. Now, this is just based on my own sensory experience, not any testing data. Perhaps it's the linden flower extract, which I've never smelled before. 

This company also has a children's shampoo that I ordered. The smell seems to be more natural, but also, no detergent listed, despit the ability to create lather. It has a similar ingredients listing to the bubble bath. Their conditioner/detangler also doesn't add up:

Here we have water-based ingredients and oils, but nothing that would emulsify the two together. Putting all of these things in a bottle together would be a separated mess. (But hey, at least they listed a preservative so at least they weren't hiding that.) 

Strike two comes with the incredible "slip" this product imparts, indicating the possibility of quaternary ammonium compounds or possibly silicones. 

I understand things happen--mistakes and miscommunication can happen between graphics design and the lab. Sometimes if a company isn't their own manufacturer, they'll even get an incomplete ingredients list from their manufacturing lab. (Trying to give them the benefit of the doubt here.) Again, I'll keep the name of the company to myself so the other company doesn't come after me with pitchforks. The takeaway here isn't that this is a bad company and you should avoid all of their products. But when you find an ingredients list that seems to be really good, always think about how the product functions and its physical properties when compared to the ingredients list. Because sometimes it doesn't add up!